Lawrence-Phillips-1996-Draft

No QBs in the first round? Rams Hope to Avoid 1996 Draft Disaster

Of yesterday's group of mock drafts released by the NFL.com pundits, none was more ominous than Albert Breer's, which called for zero quarterbacks to be drafted in the first round. Now, it appears that Mel Kiper is jumping on the bandwagon, as he releases his first mock draft of the season. (ESPN Insider link

The last time that happened was back in 1996, which means that one year after one of the greatest rookie QB classes of all time, this could go down as one of the worst. However, it was far from a draft devoid of talent. A number of franchise players emerged from that '96 draft, including Jonathan Ogden, Eddie George, Marvin Harrison and the seemingly immortal Ray Lewis. 

Moreover, the Rams don't need a quarterback, and there appear to be a number of talents at our team's positions of need. So why find this ominous? Because the 1996 draft was an unmitigated disaster for the Rams. 

The team opened its tenure in St Louis with three picks in the top fifty of that draft, but a series of unbelievably awful decisions ensured that those opening years would be filled with frustration and misery.

First, the Rams decided that their aging running back (Jerome Bettis) was losing steam, and decided to trade him away for a late second round pick. As his replacement, GM Steve Ortmeyer chose a one-dimensional back (Lawrence Phillips) who benefited from running behind the best offensive line in the game. 

2013 comparisons: Steven Jackson and Eddie Lacy

We're being kind (and fair to Lacy) by ignoring Phillips' well-documented problems with violence and discipline. And by not mentioning that the Oilers drafted Eddie George eight picks later. 

Second, the Rams sifted through one of the most well-regarded wide receiver classes in history, and chose the eminently forgettable Eddie Kennison, one pick before the Colts secured the long-term future of their passing game with Marvin Harrison. Perhaps the Rams felt that they already had a player like Harrison in Isaac Bruce? Rather than take the best player available, they filtered their draft lens for a "complementary player" with track star speed.  

2013 comparison: DeAndre Hopkins

Third, the Rams finally broke the seal on this quarterback class, by drafting Tony Banks in the second round. It was a reasonable decision, given that the Rams needed a young quarterback. But as we know, it did not work out. And of course, we saw another perennial Pro-Bowler selected just two picks later in Muhsin Muhammad. 

2013 comparison: Take your pick.

Fourth, the Rams finally made a good pick with an all-around player at tight end in Ernie Conwell. Sure, he lacked high-end star power, but he did provide reliable service to the Rams. But there's Brian Dawkins at the very end of the second round, who terrorized NFL backfields for more than a decade.  

2013 comparison: Ryan Otten

Still, though, the Rams batted a woeful one-for-four with these high impact picks, a pattern that was too-often repeated over the next decade and a half. (When you look back at our draft record, the Greatest Show era doesn't look artificially brief… it looks like a damn miracle that it ever happened to begin with.) 

This year, the lack of a great quarterback prospect means that many players that the Rams might covet, such as offensive linemen Luke Joekel, Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper, could be flying off the draft board well out of reach. Additionally, it means we won't have anywhere near the same trade value with picks 16 and 22, if neither is deemed worthy of a quarterback.

Les Snead and Jeff Fisher will have a tricky game to play this April, but therein lies the silver lining in this story. The Rams have legitimate front office personnel for the first time in memory, and the 2012 Rams draft was one of the most productive in the team's history. Hopefully we can repeat that trend, rather than the one of '96. 

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